Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 42
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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FIGHT TO THE FINISH: Princeton High first singles star Priya Joshi belts a forehand in action last fall. This past Friday, Joshi battled valiantly but fell to Wall’s Alexis Donner in three sets as PHS dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to the Crimson Knight in the Group III Central Jersey sectional final.

Singles Star Joshi Edged In 3-Set Marathon as PHS Girls’ Tennis Drops Sectional Final

Bill Alden

It was 5:15 p.m. last Friday evening and the shadows were settling over the Mercer County Park tennis courts as the Princeton High girls’ tennis team battled Wall in the NJSIAA Group III Central Jersey sectional final.

PHS top singles player Priya Joshi headed out for the third and decisive set against Wall’s Alexis Donner, knowing that the sun would set on the Little Tigers’ bid for the title if she couldn’t come through.

The evenly-matched teams had split the first four matches of the day and the sectional championship would go to the victor of the Joshi-Donner battle.

Coming into the match, which started at 3:00, Joshi knew she was in for a long day.

“We knew we wouldn’t be crushing each other,” said Joshi. “There weren’t going to be 6-0 sets. There were going to be a lot of long rallies and that’s exactly what ended up happening.”

There were rallies aplenty in that last set as the players furiously lashed strokes at each other. Most of the games went to deuce as Joshi and Donner showed their full arsenal of shotmaking, drawing cheers from the crowd massed on the hill above the court.

The players split the first four games of the set but Donner ended up winning the last four games to prevail 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 and clinch the crown for Wall.

With sweat caked on her face afterward, Joshi was proud of how she fought to the bitter end, particularly considering she had been ill earlier in the week.

“I was out of school sick on Wednesday but I came out and played and gave what I had to give,” said Joshi.

“Every single coach I’ve had has said ‘Priya will break a leg, break her nose, break her eyes, she will run for the ball.’ It’s true because no matter what happens, I want to win. Even in the last game when I was down 15-40, I still knew I would come back. I didn’t but I gave it a try.”

After winning the first set, Joshi tried mightily to win the second set and close out Donner.

“I wanted to win that second set,” said Joshi. “I missed a drop shot, I just hit it out. If I would have hit that, I would have been up 5-4.”

In the third set, Joshi changed her strategy slightly but couldn’t quite execute her game plan.

“We had a pretty tight second set so I knew it was going to be a tight third set,” recalled Joshi.

“Even though it was 6-2, there were a lot of deuces. I was hitting with more pace and going a little more to her backhand. It turns out, I lost because I didn’t do that completely. At the same time, she started being more consistent.”

PHS head coach Sarah Heyman knew that she would get a consistent effort from Joshi.

“Priya won the first set and was close in the second set,” said Heyman, whose team had beaten Wall in the sectional semifinals last year after falling to the Crimson Knights in the 2005 sectional finals.

“She had a couple of chances to close out the second. She gave it her all. I’m really proud of how she played especially coming back from Wednesday when she missed a match because she was sick. It was questionable that she would play today. But if she didn’t, we would have no chance of winning and she gave all of her heart out there.”

Early in the match, it looked like it might be a short day as PHS fell behind 2-0 with Alex Willig falling at second single and the Little Tiger first doubles pair of Allegra Bianchini and Kasey Reisman suffering their first loss of the season.

Heyman, though, wasn’t overly concerned by the early deficit. “No I wasn’t worried,” said Heyman, whose team fell to 11-1 with the setback.

“I knew from talking to other coaches that we would probably be able to win at first and third singles and second doubles. We did lose the first two but we picked up first sets in all the other matches.”

Sure enough, PHS came through to knot the match as freshman Pooja Joshi and sophomore Jesse Delaney won 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 at second doubles while senior Jenn Yi breezed to a 6-2, 6-1 win at third singles.

Heyman tipped her hat to the poise shown by her young second doubles team.

“I’m really proud of our second doubles; it’s their first year in the state tournament and they managed to fight out a gutsy first set tiebreaker,” said Heyman. “They played a great second set; they knew the pressure was on and they had to win. They stepped up.”

The performance by the veteran Yi didn’t surprise Heyman. “Jenn played great today,” asserted Heyman, whose team will continue regular season play by hosting Ewing on October 18.

“She came out aggressive and didn’t look at any possible struggles. I told her that she had the potential to be strong in our last couple of matches. She played a great match against WW/P-N [in the sectional semis] to a girl she struggled with the last time. This was her last chance in the states and I think she wanted to go out big.”

Yi, for her part, was proud to come up big for the team. “It was really important for me to try to win a match at states for the team,” said Yi.

“Our team has a lot of depth and heart. I’m happy that we tried so hard. Even though we lost, we just know that we played really well. We all get along so well on this team and it has been a really competitive season.”

Heyman appreciated the way her players carried themselves as they competed. “This year we competed but once again we were just a pinch short,” said Heyman ruefully, noting that the team’s seniors were freshmen in her first year as head coach.

“They are a fabulous group of girls. They are all so nice. They get along so well, they really enjoy each other. No matter what, they give everything they have.”

Joshi has thrived on the support she has gotten from her teammates. “The players on the team are so close to me,” said Joshi. “They are my best friends. Alex, Jenn, and Kasey, who are graduating this year, have been there for me all three years. I’m going to be sad when they leave. If I win a match, I want to see their faces. If I’m losing a match, I want to see their faces. When the points are tight, they are going to be on my side.”

And PHS is certainly lucky to have a fighter like Joshi on its side.

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